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Tests and narrow curriculum behind 'explosion' in mental ill health, says union

Union conference set to debate whether the education system has led to students feeling suicidal

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Union conference set to debate whether the education system has led to students feeling suicidal

High-stakes testing and a narrow curriculum have contributed to an "explosion" in pupils' mental ill health, the co-leader of the country's largest education union has warned.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU union, said that children were being made to feel like failures by a system "that cannot do anything but increase pressure and discontent and unhappiness".

Next month, the ATL section of the NEU will be holding its conference in Liverpool. The union is set to discuss four separate motions on children's mental health. Bousted said this was the highest number of motions on the subject on record, which she found "very concerning". 

One of the motions goes as far as to suggest that aspects of the education system have contributed to pupils feeling suicidal. 

"Conference notes, with profound sadness, the increasing incidence of suicide among young adults and teenagers, and recognises that each such episode is a complex personal tragedy, and that school or college can only ever be part of the narrative," the motion reads.

"Conference questions, nonetheless, whether the cumulative experience of contemporary education – the curriculum content, the assessment framework, approaches to pedagogy and other pervasive aspects of the system – is contributing to the lived experience of hopelessness."

It continues: "Conference also considers whether policymakers have become so preoccupied with content and outcomes, with performance and success, with progression and employability, that they have created a content in which, in the literal sense, there are those who have lost the will to live."

Bousted said the focus on mental health in the conference programme reflected the "explosion in the incidence of children and young people’s mental ill health".

She said a "narrowly academic curriculum" had left students "with no other option but to feel that they are failing – because that’s what they’re told all the time". 

"The pressure of one-shot, timed tests, which will determine their future at GCSE and at A level, cannot do anything but increase pressure and discontent and unhappiness," she added.

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